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What are Different Types of Smartphone Applications

Updated on December 25, 2012

Smartphones are usually great pieces of technology that have permeated and changed our lifestyles so quickly that nowadays it seems that many of us cannot live without that window into the virtual world in our pockets or most of the time in our hands. The main reason that smartphones have become so dear to a lot of us is their ability to run all kinda of useful applications (or apps) that can perform all kinds of useful tasks. It's like having a user-friendly computer with you at all times and once you've gotten used to the convenience and pleasure of owning a smartphone, it's next to impossible to going back to living without it. The ability to run mobile applications has empowered us, so much and it's quite interesting to examine what kind of apps exist.

Operating Systems; Paid and Free Applications; App Stores

First of all, we need to mention that there are a number of smartphone operating systems and each operating system has an ecosystem of developers, who write applications that can run on it and mobile apps stores that can be accessed through the internet from the smartphone itself. There are usually three types of apps that you could find on most smartphones in terms of their origin. There are pre-installed applications, free applications downloaded from the official marketplace and paid applications that the user purchased. Most devices tend to be closed into their own ecosystem and the manufacturers usually limit the access to other marketplaces, but some users root or jailbreak their devices in order to be able to instal applications from third-party app stores as well.

The two biggest ecosystems right now are iOS (developed by Apple to run on the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch lines of devices) and Android (an open-source mobile operating system developed by Google running on all kinds of smartphones, tablets and other devices by all kinds of manufacturers). iOS users can download for free or purchase apps from the Official Apple App Store and Android users can do the same at Google Play. Other operating systems that are fighting to get their market share are Windows Phone by Microsoft, which has the third place, the operating system powering RIM's BlackBerry devices, which is constantly losing market share, Symbian, developed by Nokia but currently abandoned as a priority in favor of Windows Phone, and many more that are actually quite small.

But we could also classify smartphone apps in categories by their types and this is what we will do below.

The most successful smartphone game so far
The most successful smartphone game so far


Despite all the talk about these amazing computers in our pockets, one of the most common things that people do with their smartphones is kill times and they often do this by playing games. Both Apple's App Store and Google Play are full of different types of gaming tittles ranking from simple looking games with clear gameplay like Angry Birds to first person shooters and sports simulations. The diversity is immense and there are interesting things to find both for casual users who just want to kill a boring 10 minute ride on the subway and hardcore gamers who want something as intense as the games they play on their PCs. Some of the most common game categories are action, puzzle, casual, gambling, and sports and racing.

Consuming content and entertainment is easier than ever.
Consuming content and entertainment is easier than ever.

Content and Media Consumption Applications

Other thing that we do on our smartphones is to get informed and entertained. So we consume all kinds of content and there are all kinds of apps to help us do this. There are apps that help us gather news from around the web like Flipboard or from a specific source like the ESPN or NY Times dedicated apps; there are apps that let us consume video like Netflix, Hulu, and YoutTube;, there are apps that allow us to consume music like Spotify and Pandora; there are apps that make it possible for us to read books, comics and magazines like Kindle and Nook. We finally have everything we might want to see or hear at our fingertips packed into intuitive user-friendly mobile applications that are most of the time an utter pleasure to use. There are even a lot of websites that make their content available through dedicated mobile apps that can integrate directly into your smartphone's operating system.

Google Maps for mobile screenshots
Google Maps for mobile screenshots
The Mobile Browser Olympics: Opera, Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Dolphin.
The Mobile Browser Olympics: Opera, Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Dolphin.

Core Functionality and Utility Applications

Besides all the various apps that a consumer might download and install onto their smartphone there are a number of apps we've come to expect to have on a smartphone. These are applications like the browser, the camera app and the navigation software. Other things we could mention here are antivirus and anti-spyware software; reminders, organizers and calendars; calculators, and screensavers. Many of these can be replaced by more advanced and specialized third-party apps available for free or for purchase. For instance, there are a number of mobile browsers that you can install like Chrome, Opera, Dolphin or Firefox on many of the devices even if your default pre-installed browser is not one of them which is the case with Safari on the iPhone.

Apple's FaceTime in action
Apple's FaceTime in action

Social Networking and Communication

Smartphones do so many things for us, but one of the most important aspects of their usefulness is the fact that they keep us connected. They do it through a number of ways. First of all, they give us access to a wide range of social network with each one having one or more dedicated apps that we can instal. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter have a number of dedicated mobile applications that let us read, post, share, like and follow from anywhere, but they are not the only ones. There is a new generation of social networks that were born on mobile devices like Instagram and Foursquare. They both make a community around a different hardware ability provided to us by the smartphone (camera and location detection respectively). Additionally, there are apps that provide more direct communication allowing for VoIP (voice over IP), instant messaging and video conferencing like Viber, Skype and FaceTime that go around the carriers and taking advantage only of their data services.

Evernote is a wonderful app that lets you do almost anything with your notes and information
Evernote is a wonderful app that lets you do almost anything with your notes and information

Business and Productivity Applications

Of course, not everything we do on our smartphones is pure pleasure and some of us also use them to do work. In this broad category we can find apps that help you organize your information on the cloud and take notes like Evernote, apps that let you make financial transactions like Google Wallet, Mint and Square, apps or even office suits that let you edit conventional documents and so on and so on. Sooner or later for any productive task that we need to do, we would have the option to do it on our smartphone and this is something very useful.

Lifestyle and Other Applications

There are a number of apps that cater to a particular lifestyle or a particular human activity. There are apps to assist us with our health or fitness, apps to support us while we train, exercise or practice a sport, apps about shopping for clothes, apps that finds us bars or movies to go to and so on and so on. The abundance of choice and options is what makes smartphones so successful. In the end, no categorization of the smartphone applications available would be complete without the category for the apps that don't fit under the rest of the categories. Our smartphones have all kinds of sensors, hardware functions and communication options that it is always possible to find new and ingenious ways of using them in order to make our lives better, easier, more pleasant or more organized. With apps ranging from helping you tune your guitar to controlling external hardware we could easily say that the sky is the limit. Mobile developers around the world are working tirelessly to create mobile applications that we will like, enjoy and use and there is constantly someone somewhere around the world that has devised a brand new way to utilize the computing and hardware power of our closest technological friends and companions.

Final Words

In the end, our smartphone are becoming more and more flexible in helping us face challenges, find recreation and experience life. Their customization possibilities are what makes them such a great asset and it all stems from the ability to run apps.

Some interesting statistics from Nielsen on how different types of mobile apps are used

The survey clearly shows that we tend to use our smartphones for recreation rather than work and productivity, but this is something that is bound to change as the average age of the smartphone user increases.
The survey clearly shows that we tend to use our smartphones for recreation rather than work and productivity, but this is something that is bound to change as the average age of the smartphone user increases.
There are things customers are ready to pay for and things customers would rather get for free.
There are things customers are ready to pay for and things customers would rather get for free.

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